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Pure Art or Selling Out to Commercialism

by Keith Bond on 1/5/2009 3:01:23 PM

Today's Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Find out how you can be a guest author

Many artists feel that truly meaningful or 'pure' art is created solely for the purpose of expression and must not be influenced by any outside force.  They argue that the inspiration must come from within and that any other influence or purpose behind the creation dilutes or contaminates its purpose.  It is no longer pure art, but rather has stooped to the level of 'commercial art' at best.

Is it really so black and white?  Can one make a living at art and create meaningful art which comes from within?  Are all artists who market their work selling out to commercialism?

I believe that it is possible to stay true to oneself in the creation of art and make a living at it.  There is a continuum rather than a fixed doorway.  On one end are the purest of the purists (those I described above).  On the other end are those who sell out their creativity to make a buck.  (I don't include commercial artists or illustrators, because I believe that there is a huge difference between being a commercial artist and selling out to commercialism - but this is a different topic for another day).  Each artist must decide for him or herself where that line is which, when crossed, prostitutes their creativity.

I don't claim to know all the answers, but rather I bring up a few things to ponder as you decide on your own career. This list is in no particular order and is not all inclusive.

  • There is a difference between creating and promoting.
  • Don't create artwork that you are not excited about.
  • Be open to new ideas, though.  Growth comes from trying new things. 
  • Do not promote or exhibit artwork that you are not excited about.
  • I would rather miss an entry deadline to a show, than to submit a mediocre painting.
  • Don't try to replicate someone else's successes.
  • Don't try to duplicate your own successes.  Learn from them and apply what you learned, but don't do the same painting over and over trying to glean more sales.  If you have something additional to say about a specific theme or subject then explore that idea until exhausted.  If you have nothing new to say, move on. 
  • Never be content with your current level.  Always strive to improve your skills.
  • Find markets for your work.  Don't alter your work for the market.  
  • Be selective in which shows, galleries, etc. you chose to exhibit.   A venue which may be right for one artist may be wrong for you.
  • Commissions are difficult.  Apply principles 2 and 3 above to determine whether or not to accept a commission.  Don't simply say 'no' because the idea is not solely yours.  Don't simply say 'yes' to have a guaranteed sale.  Consider the request and discuss with the client their expectations and yours.  Commissions can be very fulfilling if done in the right way.   Be open but selective.
  • Keep your prices in line with the market.  Some artists over price while some under price their work.
  • Don't keep prices the same for too long.  Collectors want to know that what they have purchased was a good investment.  If they see that your prices have increased over the years, this confirms that they made a good decision. (Be careful not to artificially inflate prices, though).  They will be more willing to continue buying your work.
  • However, don't encourage purchasing on investment.  The collectors must first want to live with the painting.  
  • There are hundreds of marketing techniques and strategies, choose those that work for you. 
  • Determine what you are trying to say with your art.  What is your motivation?  Why do you create?  Is there a common theme to all of your work (regardless of how diverse it may appear)?  This should be what your promotional and marketing strategies are developed around.

I could go on, but I hope this list gets you thinking.  Be true to yourself and your art, but don't be afraid to find ways to promote and sell it.  Even if you rely on galleries to sell your work, there is a lot you can do to develop your reputation and make your work more sought after.


Keith Bond

PS.  Keep in mind that some of history's greatest works of art were commissioned.  Think of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Sargent, Rodin, and Dixon to name only a few.  It is possible to create great art even if the market becomes a part of the equation.   

[Editor's Note: This is a common meme among artists the "pure" vs. "commercial" debate.  If you want to discuss/debate it more, in "real time" join the discussion with us over on Twitter at: ]


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Related Posts:

Do artists need galleries anymore?

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Topics: Art Business | art marketing | Creativity and Inspiration 

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via web
Keith, thanks for this post, and congrats on your joining the writing team for Fine Art Views - you are a gifted writer as well as artist.

You give wise advice, and the great thing is that you've lived the artist life, know the ups and downs of making and marketing your work - first hand. On top of all that,your paintings are fabulous!

Most sincerely,

Rebecca Shapiro
via web
Keith, I agree that you can create the kind of art you are passionate about and make a living without compromising yourself. Thanks for putting the bullet points out there...they certainly do generate more ideas!

via web
I'm obviously doing something wrong. I can only make money on the art I'm not crazy about. I find a way to do it cheaper, faster, and find a design that the public likes (whether I do or not) and that is what sells. Keith's remarks are encouraging, but I've tried several of them and can't get them to work for me.

Ron Grauer
via web

KEITH, you bit into a delicate issue and I commend you for your courage. Let me explain how I see that issue.
I believe that a 'fine artist' with no background in 'commercial' art just isn't able to accurately differentiate prostitution from sweet love. So confusion exists in their minds, that the money may tarnish their purity.
This seems obvious to me because of my tarnished background in the commercial world…and all who have been in the rat race know exactly what I mean.
The ‘commercial' artist, be it designer, AD. or illustrator is roped and tied from the get-go by the knowledge that…if the multitude of unofficial judges and clients are satisfied, then, he will be paid the predetermined fee. Hmmm…sounds like…?
Therein lies the rub...the choice. A painter, starting out, knows there is a very real possibility that what is painted today may never be paid for. .but chooses to do it anyway. Few 'commercial' guys sit down and knock out a great ad layout just for the hell of it.
We, who have left the glory fields of 'commercial' art, really appreciate and recognize that, that choice is more important than money...and we can choose to take it and go for broke just for the hell of it if we want to. There is no deeper love than the forsaking of money in order to be able to paint ('fine art').
However no one is above a minimal need for sustenance so let us be forgiving of our brother’s occasional sins. Often they really don’t have a choice!!!

Roxie Nichols
via web
I loved what you wrote. I feel its so true and as an artist that took some time off for family and now this last year getting back into it has been truly hard.
I just keep plugging away because I so love what I do. I said yesterday to my sister - I wish I did not need to sleep- I could work on my art 24/7 .
I tryed getting back into the market and Galleries but times are really tough so instead of giving up I am doing plan B.-- Which is marketing myself in many different areas and different venues. I am still staying true to creating really good art but in other forms, some higher Gallery pieces and some along a line of recycling , thinking green with art and projects.
Its been so fun- really just thinking out-side the box. Its been very liberating.
Thanks Keith so much for your words of wisdom and great encouragement in these funky times.

Bob Ragland
via web
I had to respond the the term selling out. Being an artist means that sometimes one has to make compromises. Selling well is not selling out.
Real artists do what ever it takes to heat and eat.

About repetition, the artist Georgio Morandi is an artist to investigate about
painting the same subjects over and over again.

I make the art I want to make , then find the audience later.

I have a artist in residence gig and that allows me to be selective in the subjects, I want to draw or paint.

I think very few artists have ideal art careers, in that they sell every work they make.
There's nothing wrong with being diversified in ones art life, or repeating subjects. My mission is to get to the next day,week,month as an artist.

I will do that by any means necessary as an artist.

Bob Ragland


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